Resilient Lehigh Valley’s mission is to increase youth resiliency through creating trauma-informed and culturally responsive schools as well as other youth and family-serving systems. Trauma-informed and culturally responsive practices will assist in building safe and supportive communities that promote healing and resilience. At the core of this systems change is understanding the impact of trauma, its resulting behaviors, and the power of trusting relationships to heal from trauma. In academic settings, this knowledge is key for educators to view students through a trauma-informed lens and respond according. Research shows that when schools adopt a trauma-informed approach, we see improved student attendance, behavior, academic performance as well as improved staff morale and school climate.
Over the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years, school staff representing Bethlehem Area, Easton Area, East Penn, Whitehall-Coplay and Northern Lehigh School Districts were asked to complete the Attitudes Related to Trauma-Informed Care (ARTIC) assessment. This evidence-based tool measures awareness of trauma, how it impacts a person’s state of mind and behavior, abilities to provide a supportive response, and practicing self-care.
The initial assessment was completed prior to staff receiving trauma training, these responses served as a baseline. In partnership with Lakeside and Dr. Chris Liang’s school counseling team from Lehigh University’s College of Education, with funding provided by a PCCD grant, we provided trauma-informed and culturally responsive school practices to leadership teams within these five partner school districts. Trauma-informed training materials were developed by a team of providers and were shared with school district leadership. Topics included Trauma 101, Trauma’s impact on the brain, Secondary and Vicarious Trauma, Practical Trauma-Informed Strategies, and Trauma-Informed De-escalation Techniques.
We then assessed changes in educator attitudes and beliefs over the past two years and found some powerful learnings. Post trainings, teachers are buying into adopting a trauma-informed approach to students. They understand the impact of trauma, they feel more confident in understanding the underlying causes of behaviors and the need for them to respond in a supportive manner. Responses to the ARTIC also showed that teachers don’t yet feel confident in applying a trauma-informed response to de-escalate situations when responding to unexpected behaviors, something Resilient Lehigh Valley is working to address through future training and coaching opportunities.
We also saw from this assessment that our educators have been struggling with self-care and supporting their own emotional wellness over these past two years. In light of the many and deep challenges caused by this pandemic – fear of illness, loss of loved ones, increased anxiety and depression, abrupt shifts to virtual or hybrid learning, increased disruptive behavior and absenteeism with students, significant covid related learning losses in students – this data shows how critically important it is for us to continue supporting and lifting up our educators. We encourage community members to reach out to their local school district to see how you can support teacher wellness, like creating a teacher wellness space in the school.
Starting this summer, Resilient Lehigh Valley will also be providing trainings in Compassion Resilience, designed to prevent and reduce compassion fatigue and burnout.
The results of the 2020 and 2021 ARTIC assessments are encouraging and demonstrate that the investment Lehigh Valley school districts are placing into trauma-informed systems is working.